The way the internet has changed the business of law.

What a difference 15 years can make.

I am hardly long in the tooth in my legal career, but the change in the way legal services can be provided due to the massive expansion of internet services has been dramatic over that period of time.

When I first started practice, everything done on a client’s file was essentially paper driven:

– Needed a corporate search to identify the head office address and principles of the company? Then send off a paper requisition to Dye&Durham and wait a week for it to come back. If it came back “no match found”, then try again with a different variation of the spelling of the company name, as maybe it wasn’t correct in the contract. On and on it would go, delaying preparation of the statement of claim by a month or two.
– Research involved massive libraries within the firm, which constantly required updating and a dedicated research lawyer on staff. Who paid for that? The client, via the hourly rates charged for services. If there was no firm library, then it involved trips to the court or university library, once again the client paying for the time spent.
– Real property conveyancers were once abundant in the land registry offices. They handled all property searches for lawyers in addition to the formal closings of property sales and financing. Put in your request and wait for the conveyancer to have some time to search the paper records (and the internal computers that were just becoming common) to find the debtor or property that you were seeking.
– Needed a Ministry of Transportation search to track down a debtor or a vehicle? Send off the paperwork to the Ministry and hope for the best, both in terms of the results and the time for the Ministry to respond.

These are but a few examples of the grind that existed in practice 15 years ago – and thus the delays and increased expense to clients that came with the repeated time spent trying to obtain simple information.

Today, we simply log into our accounts with government service providers to obtain corporate search information, real property ownership and driver’s license searches. Research on-line has come to the point where courts now have protocols in place to accept computer printouts of caselaw rather than photocopies of reported cases from bound volumes. Law firm libraries are a thing of the past.

All of these internet resources allow us to now search in minutes what took hours before, to the point where it can be done during a telephone call with a client.

It will be interesting indeed to see where how much further we have progressed in another 15 years.

Paul H. Voorn